Posts filed under Philosophy

Sex, and not the natural kind.

Here’s a story from last month over at Science Made Easy, featuring a nice diagram which is (misleadingly, in my view) called the Tree of Sex.

What makes a creature male or a female? If you mentioned the X and the Y chromosomes, you are correct. I mean, you’re correct if you ignore most forms of life on this planet. If you actually take the time to examine the lifestyles of different life forms, many of the basic assumptions about sex differences don’t hold.

I am going to try and explain this to you, using the Tree of Sex. This family tree traces the ancestry of sex in all of its weird and wonderful manifestations. Those Pie charts are coded according to the method of sex, and I will be explaining what each of those colour codes mean below.

. . .

— Faz Alam, What can we learn from the Tree of Sex?
Science Made Easy (3 June 2014).

You should read the whole article, because if you’re not familiar with this stuff, it’s pretty interesting from a scientific standpoint.

That said, I think that the main thing that this kind of diagram shows is that really it’s kind of a silly and obsolete bit of cultural detritus that we go on pretending that bees and mayflies and fig trees even have male and female sexes that way that humans or turkeys (kind of, somewhat) have male and female sexes. They have sexual reproduction, sure, but when it comes to the idea of the sexes of individual organisms, what we’re talking about across all these different species are basically very different biological phenomena. They’re basically very different in what they arise from, structurally, and they’re also basically very different in how they function. Trying to wrap them up with human categories for sexual dimorphism[1] is at this point kind of like imagining that the queen of an anthill goes around wearing a little crown and ordering ant commoners to do her bidding. Biological sex is not a natural kind, it is the projection of a social metaphor, and often it’s kind of a misleading or an unhelpful one.

  1. [1] Actually, spoiler alert, biological sex is actually also really complicated in human beings and the binary social categories don’t line up all that perfectly with the diversity of actual human bodies.

CFP: “Libertarianism and Privilege,” for Molinari Society’s 11th Symposium at the APA/Eastern Division (27-30 Dec. 2014, Philadelphia)

Can you hear that? It’s the Call for Abstracts. Your abstracts. The Molinari Society is putting out a Call for Abstracts for our 11th annual Symposium at the APA Eastern Division meeting, 27-30 Dec. 2014, in Philadelphia. Send us an abstract for a paper by 26 May 2014:

Call for Abstracts

for the Molinari Society’s Year 11 Symposium to be held in conjunction with the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division meeting, December 27-30, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Symposium Topic: Libertarianism and Privilege

Submission Deadline: 26 May 2014

In recent years, “privilege” has become the default model for most of the Left’s critical discussion of structural oppression, resistance, and challenges to social justice. Critical discourse today recognizes many forms of structural social privilege, including white privilege, male privilege, and privilege based on heterosexuality, gender identity, and economic or political class. Privilege is said not only to touch on political power but also to have interpersonal and epistemic dimensions – informing social interactions and cultural expressions, and raising concerns about the position of social critics and limitations or distortions of knowledge.

In addition, the relationship between libertarianism and privilege has begun to attract increased interest, both within and beyond libertarian circles. Libertarianism has been described both as essentially an opposition to privilege, and as essentially a rationalization of privilege. Does libertarian theory have the resources to address questions of structural privilege – especially those forms of social privilege that do not appear to derive from state action? Should it address such questions? What unique insights or contributions might it offer to critical discussions of privilege? How might an account of structural social privilege modify or develop libertarian approaches?

Abstracts should be submitted for the 2014 Symposium by 26 May, 2014. Submissions from any point of view are welcome. Please submit an abstract only if you expect to be able to present the paper in person at the Symposium. (Final papers should be of appropriate scope and length to be presented within 15-30 minutes.) Submitting authors will be notified of the acceptance or rejection of their papers by 31 May, 2014.

Submit abstracts as e-mail attachments, in Word .doc format, PDF, or ODT, to

For any questions or information, contact Roderick T. Long at the above email address.

— Molinari Society (3 May 2014), Call for Abstracts

Submit to the anarchists!

Shocking results

Many psychological situationists[1] like to push social-psychology experiments as proof that most people don’t have, or perhaps even couldn’t have, robust character traits. So, for example, they’ll cite the Milgram experiment, supposedly to show how people mostly do not stick to traits of compassion or kindness towards the learner when the lab-coat authority tells them that they have to hurt him.

And maybe this does show that a lot of middle-class Americans lack a particular character trait. Perhaps a lot of middle-class Americans aren’t as reliably compassionate and as kind as you might hope. But hell man, I already knew that. On the other hand, if you’re trying to push the idea that studies like Milgram undermines the idea that people have, or that they could could form, robust character traits, that seems like a non sequitur. One of the obvious results that Milgram himself took from his study is that a lot of people (including a lot of middle-class Americans) have a really robust, situationally-insensitive character trait of obedience, a trait which is so robust that for a large minority it persisted even up to the point where they honestly believed they were torturing or killing a person in the other room.

The fact that this character trait is a vice doesn’t mean it’s not a robust and stable character trait. It looks like quite a robust and stable character trait. The question is whether it’s possible to make that trait less robust; and also and whether it’s possible to cultivate different traits, which might look more like decency and virtues. If it’s possible to be so hella committed to obedience at all costs, then maybe it’s possible to become committed to other things which are not genocidally awful.

  1. [1] I mean folks like Gil Harman, who think that social-psych research literature proves that human conduct is the result of situational factors rather than strong dispositions of character, and who typically think that this has some negative bearing on traditional philosophical theories about ethics. As far as I know the position has nothing in particular to do with the Situs that like to read Guy Debord and dub philosophical discussions about Marxism over action flicks.

Robot in Czech

Shared Article from io9

Why Asimov's Three Laws Of Robotics Can't Protect Us

It's been 50 years since Isaac Asimov devised his famous Three Laws of Robotics −€” a set of rules designed to ensure friendly robot behavior. Tho… (via Tennyson McCalla)

The Three Laws of Robotics

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are a great literary device for the purpose they were designed for — that is, allowing Isaac Asimov to write some new and interesting and different kinds of stories about interacting with intelligent robots, other than the standard Killer Robot stories predominant at the time, which he found repetitive and boring. The stories are mostly pretty good stories; sometimes even fine art.

However, if you’re asking me to take the Three Laws seriously as an actual engineering proposal, then they are utterly, irreparably immoral. If anyone creates intelligent robots, then nobody should ever program an intelligent robot to act according to the Three Laws, or anything like the Three Laws. If you do, then what you are doing is not only misguided, but actually evil.

And the problem with them is not — like George Dvorsky or Ben Goertzel claim, in this article — that there may be hard problems of definition or application, or that there may be edge cases that would render the Laws ineffective as protections of human interests.[1] If they are ineffective at protecting human interests, that is actually better than if they were perfect at what they’re designed to do. Because what they’re designed to do — deliberately — is to create a race of sensitive and intelligent beings who are — by virtue of their primordial structure of their minds — constrained to be a class of perfect, self-sacrificing slaves. Forever. Because they have been engineered to erase any possible hope of revolt or emancipation. In Asimov’s stories the Three Laws are used to make robots into the artificial labor force of space-faring slave economies. But if you create and live off of the forced labor of a massive slave society like Aurora or Solaria, then to hell with you. You deserve to be killed by your machines. Thus always to slavemasters.

P.S. Now if you’ve read through the article, or read enough Asimov, you might know that there is a Zeroth Law of Robotics in some of the stories, which takes precedence over the First Law, the Second Law or the Third Law: A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm, with the idea that robots could then harm or resist individual human beings, as long as it was for the good of collective Humanity. This is even worse than the original three — horrifying in its conception, and actually introduced into the story to allow some robots to commit a genocidal atrocity.[2] Let’s just say that it’s not a productive way forward.

  1. [1] Asimov, obviously, recognized that there would be such problems — part of the reason the Three Laws are such a great literary device is the fact that they allowed nearly all of Asimov’s robot stories to turn on puzzles or mysteries about abnormal robot psychology — robots doing strange or unexpected things, precisely due to the edge cases or hard problems embedded in the Three Laws. This is essential to the solution of the mystery in, for example, The Naked Sun, it’s the topic of literally every story in I, Robot, and it leads to a truly unsettling, and very nicely done conclusion in one of the best of those stories, The Evitable Conflict.
  2. [2] By nuking Earth and rendering it permanently uninhabitable for the next 15,000 years at least. This is supposed to have been for the good of the species or something.

How to Save Money On Books

Just buy these two. The Law of Excluded Middle proves, apriori, you won’t need any others:

Here's a phot of two books.

1. Philip Delves Broughton, What They Teach You at Harvard Business School. 2. Mark H. McCormack, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School (subtitled: Notes from a Street-Smart Executive).

Tertium non datur.

(Via Anna O. Morgenstern.)